HINESBURG – The smack of the ball hitting a glove. The ping of the bat. The dugout chatter setting a casual yet jovial mood, inning to inning.
“It was music to my ears — nothing I love more,” S.D. Ireland’s Wyatt Cameron said. “When I woke up this morning, it was game day, and it was amazing, just like it never left.”
The hibernation of sports in Vermont finally ended Wednesday.
Competition made its official return for the first time since the COVID-19 shutdown, and the Vermont Summer Baseball League took center stage. Six games were on the docket for the debut of a month-long, 13-team independent league, which formed in place of the canceled American Legion summer season.
“I think many of us doubted we’d ever get to this point, especially the way things are going around the rest of the country recently,” S.D. Ireland manager Tim Albertson said. “It’s an exciting time for everybody. It was great to see guys do what they love to do.”
Last week, the state gave the go-ahead to allow low-contact sports to begin competition inside Vermont borders. Organized practices started two weeks ago.
In Hinesburg, host S.D. Ireland, last year’s Legion state runner-up, plated six first-inning runs in a 10-6 triumph over Essex. Cameron, the winning pitcher in relief, drove in half of those early runs with a bases-clearing double.
“It was the first fastball I’ve seen since last year, Legion ball actually,” said Cameron, a Salisbury resident who pitches for New England College. “The ball was crystal clear today, you could see it, the ball was bright-white, nothing better than that.”
Essex’s Cory Giannelli, bound for Clark University in the fall to continue his baseball career, said the moment was hard to embrace — sports were sidelined for more than 100 days.
“It’s certainly a new experience. I’m just glad we have the opportunity to go out and play with everyone because it’s something that is really meaningful to a lot of us out here,” said Giannelli. “We really love baseball.”
On the field, rust and lack of sharpness were expected.
S.D. Ireland starter Storm Rushford, one of the state’s premier high school aces, yielded three hard hits, with Giannelli’s single spotting Essex a 2-0 advantage after the top of the first.
Meanwhile, Essex committed three errors in the home half of the first, letting S.D. Ireland wipe out the deficit before capping the crooked frame on Cameron’s double to the gap.
Ahead 7-4 in the third, S.D. Ireland second baseman Tyler Skaflestad drove in a pair of runs on a single. Baker Angstman tacked on a sac fly for S.D. Ireland’s 10th run in the next inning.
Essex’s Sathvik Kanuparthi had an RBI double in the third and the visitors plated two unearned runs in the seventh to close out the scoring.
While a 30-minute rain delay gave Wednesday a sense of familiarity — weather playing a factor in Vermont, who knew! — there were also noticeable differences from your average baseball game.
Players wore face coverings when necessary and weren’t all crunched inside the dugout. Instead they were spread in front and on the side of the dugout to avoid breaking the six-foot physical distancing guidance. Both umpires also covered their faces and did not touch any of the baseballs.
But it was worth it.
“It feels amazing to just get back into the box and hit live pitching,” Giannelli said. “It’s something I’d never expected I would have missed as much as I did. I’m glad it’s back.”
Around the league Wednesday
Colchester rallied for a 3-2 win over South Burlington. Colchester scored twice in the final inning, winning it on a wild pitch. Michael Mansfield had two hits and RBI for Colchester while Matthew Guyette paced South Burlington in a 3-for-4 effort.
Elsewhere, Barre blanked Montpelier 5-0; Manchester defeated Bennington 7-1; Bellows Falls doubled up White River Junction 4-2 and Lakes Region rolled over Rutland 32-0.
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